General Norman Schwarzkopf, military hero of Gulf war, dies at 78

General Schwarzkopf routed Saddam Hussein's forces in the 1991 Gulf war and then became a global media and marketing phenomenon

PUBLISHED : Saturday, 29 December, 2012, 12:00am
UPDATED : Saturday, 29 December, 2012, 5:40am


Norman Schwarzkopf

General Norman Schwarzkopf commanded the US-led forces that crushed Iraq in the 1991 Gulf war to become America's most acclaimed military hero since the mid-century exploits of generals Dwight Eisenhower and Douglas MacArthur.

In Operation Desert Storm, Schwarzkopf - who has died in Florida, aged 78 - orchestrated one of the most lopsided victories in modern warfare, a six-week blitzkrieg by a broad coalition of forces with overwhelming air superiority that liberated tiny Kuwait from Iraqi occupation, routed Saddam Hussein's Republican Guard and virtually destroyed Iraq's infrastructure, all with relatively light allied losses.

Winning the lightning war was never in doubt and in no way comparable to the traumas of the second world war and the Korean conflict, which made Eisenhower and MacArthur into national heroes. But a divisive Vietnam conflict and the cold war had produced no such heroes, and the little-known Schwarzkopf was wreathed in laurels as the victor in a popular war against a brutal dictator.

The general, who retired soon after the Gulf war and lived in Tampa, died of complications arising from pneumonia, said his sister Ruth Barenbaum.

A combat-tested, highly decorated career officer who held many commands, served two battlefield tours in Vietnam and co-ordinated US landing forces in the 1983 invasion of Grenada, Schwarzkopf came home from the Gulf to a tumultuous welcome, including a glittering ticker-tape parade up Broadway.

"Stormin' Norman", as headlines proclaimed him, was lionised by millions of euphoric Americans who, until weeks earlier, had never heard of him. Then- president George H. W. Bush, whose popularity soared with the war, gave him the Presidential Medal of Freedom. Congress gave him standing ovations. Britain's Queen Elizabeth made him an honorary knight. European and Asian nations conferred lavish honours.

Within weeks, the four-star general became a media and marketing phenomenon. Three months after the war, he signed a US$5 million contract with Bantam Books for the world rights to his memoirs, It Doesn't Take a Hero, written with Peter Petre and published in 1992. Herbert Mitgang, reviewing the book for The New York Times, called it a serviceable first draft of history. "General Schwarzkopf," he wrote, "comes across as a strong professional soldier, a Patton with conscience".

As a boy, Schwarzkopf lived in Iran, Switzerland, Germany and Italy with his father, an army major general, becoming fluent in French and German by 17.

At West Point, he dreamed of leading men in battle. "He saw himself as Alexander the Great," recalled General Leroy Suddath, his old roommate, "and we didn't laugh when he said it".

Schwarzkopf went to Vietnam in 1965 and once withstood a 10-day enemy siege. A battalion commander in his second Vietnam tour, in 1969-70, he was wounded twice and won three Silver Stars for bravery.

In between his Vietnam tours, he married Brenda Holsinger in 1968. They had three children: Cynthia, Jessica and Christian.

In 1983, he was tapped to co-ordinate the task force that successfully invaded Grenada, after revolutionaries staged a coup. In 1988, Schwarzkopf was named commander of the US Central Command, supervising military activities in 19 countries in the Middle East and surrounding regions. He developed contingency plans for war in Iraq, and two years later they were needed.

On August 2, 1990, Iraqi forces occupied Kuwait. Schwarzkopf moved his headquarters to Riyadh, Saudi Arabia, and amassed hundreds of ships, thousands of aircraft and 765,000 allied troops. After a deadline for Iraq's withdrawal passed on January 15, 1991, the world's first heavily televised war began.

Audiences saw live missiles striking targets and fighters taking off from aircraft carriers. The result was a dramatic war - and a visible champion in fatigues.